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// At Emerson College

D Is For Demisexual

Explaining demisexuality and related identities to a society that just doesn't get us yet.

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You may have never heard of demisexuality, and I wouldn't blame you. It's not a well-known sexuality, and it's not talked about as much as other sexualities might be. In fact, many of the sexualities underneath the asexual umbrella are largely not discussed and frequently misunderstood. Though I've written about demisexuality before, I want to clarify what it is and what it can mean. This is my understanding of the label, and it in no way represents what it means for all demisexuals. I use "we" in a way to mean myself and other demisexuals that have a similar understanding and expression of this identity. Something fantastic about human sexuality is that it is expressed uniquely depending on the person's personality and life experiences. It makes for a diverse scale. However, these are some of the key traits and points that I think help in understanding demisexuality as a whole.

1. "Demisexual" literally means "half sexual."

"Demi" is a prefix meaning half. For example, you may have heard of a "demigod." This alone explains some of the traits and foundation of the sexuality. Demisexual is halfway between sexual and asexual. It is, however, considered to be on the asexual scale. This may be because the sexual scale inherently excludes demisexuality. Because demisexuals are by nature not "fully sexual," they are placed under the asexual category. There's another umbrella term that I prefer, which is gray-ace or gray-a. Demisexual does not indicate a certain gender preference. One can be demiheterosexual, demihomosexual, demibisexual, etc.

2. Typically, demisexuality is characterized by a lack of primary attraction.

By "lack," I don't mean to imply that we are lacking something as humans and there's something amiss with us, more that we simply do not possess something considered "normal," but that's OK! In the current understanding of human sexual attraction, there is a primary attraction and a secondary attraction. Primary attraction is initial sexual attraction formed based on physical traits. This means you're sexually attracted to someone because you find them physically appealing. Secondary attraction is sexual attraction formed based on an emotional bond and the individual's personality. While demisexuals might find someone objectively attractive, often sexual attraction is not primarily formed. We often form sexual attraction on a secondary basis, after we have emotionally connected with the person. For more information on this, visit this cool little site.

3. Demisexuals do not automatically find sex repulsive.

Often, any disinterest in having sex just for sex is socially treated as a disgust toward sex. This just isn't accurate for many demisexuals. In fact, we have both primary and secondary sexual desire. This means that when we desire sex, it can be for emotional and physical satisfaction and also to conceive children. Demisexuals usually develop sexual desire under specific circumstances, mainly through a strong connection or emotional bond.

4. Sexual attraction can be separate from romantic attraction.

This also applies to understanding asexuality. It is important in trying to negotiate asexuality and demisexuality within a society fixated on sex. Many think that individuals under the asexual umbrella do not ever feel attracted to any human being on any level. This could be true for some people, but it's important to remember that it is rare to be 100 percent any sexual identity, asexuality and demisexuality included. Asexuals and demisexuals can certainly have crushes and be romantically attracted to others, even love someone romantically. They can want to date and, sometimes, have sex. It is simply that their sexual attraction functions differently and independently from romantic attraction. An asexual or demisexual might be perfectly happy dating for a long time, or indefinitely, without sex. To that end, that means someone can be both demisexual and demiromantic, simply demisexual, simply demiromantic, or other combinations of sexual and romantic identities.

5. This is not a choice.

Though many understand that identities like gay and lesbian are not conscious choices, sometimes this is forgotten when applied to demisexuality. Just because we might reserve sexual activity for people we know on a deep level and emotionally connect with, it does not mean we are overly-religious, arrogant or trying to make anyone feel ashamed about being more willing to have sex. It also does not mean we are contradicting feminist ideals and placing "too much" value in virginity. I simply lack sexual attraction to someone I do not emotionally connect with, and there is no motivation or benefit for me to engage in sexual activity without this bond. I will feel nothing. It does not make me a better or worse person than you. This is just how I feel. I can't help it.

6. We are not unhappy with life.

More specifically, our sexuality does not make us inherently unhappy with life and the world. Demisexuals aren't freaks moping in the corner just because they're not having sex. Demisexuals often find satisfaction in good conversation and company, hobbies and other areas of life. We don't need sex. We don't feel a hole in our souls or feel like we're missing something. It's with outside factors that we might feel that way. Sometimes, this society can pressure demisexuals into believing they are missing out on something or should want/be having sex because it's what is "normal" or expected. This can be severely damaging to self-esteem and confidence. It alienates individuals from their peers and causes a lot of frustration and pain.

7. We are not "weird."

Well, we may be weird. But not simply because we are demisexual, and not in the hurtful way this comment is meant. Though I may use what's "normal" to explain how demisexuals differ from others on the sexual scale, this is no way means we are "abnormal" or "weird." Calling demisexuals, asexuals or others on the asexual scale "weird" is to write them off as "other" and not able to be understood. Simple research into demisexuality and reading explanations written by someone part of that identity (like this article!) can lead to understanding if the person is willing enough. It is unproductive to simply give up and call us "weird." Just because you might not get it, that does not mean there is something wrong with that person. Perhaps try asking about what you don't comprehend, as long as the individual wants to be asked and it is a respectful question.

8. Don't blindly say you understand.

Going off of the above point, it's also problematic to just say you understand without really absorbing what demisexuality means, particularly in a romantic context. Agreeing to date someone who's demisexual and claiming to be OK with it without knowing what it actually entails can be damaging for everyone involved. Specifically, the demisexual individual can begin to believe they are accepted when in fact, the other person is not OK with not having sex until the demisexual has established a strong emotional bond—or not OK with the fact that the demisexual might need things to move slowly. This can lead to messy breakups and hurt feelings. It's best to look into demisexuality and what it can mean to date a demisexual and then decide whether you would like to pursue the person. Listening is imperative.

9. Patience is a virtue.

Personally, and possibly for other demisexuals, my emotions regarding sexual activity, attraction and dating are fragile and slower to develop. This can make some demisexuals feel as though they will never find someone to be with because our sexuality often requires getting to know the person really well before knowing if we want to have sex. With the nature of most modern relationships, a lot of people are not willing to wait around to see if someone is attracted to them sexually or even romantically. They want answers quickly. And that's understandable, but a reason why demisexuals and asexuals might feel isolated from other people in respect to romantic relationships and sex. My feelings, for example, are easily ruined if a relationship escalates too quickly. Many of us might need someone who is willing to be patient.

10. Sexualities don't usually function in absolutes.

Though there are certainly key indicators of a demisexuality identity, like a lack of primary attraction, not all demisexuals are the same. Not all behave or regard sex and relationships in the ways I have outlined in this list. There is difference from demisexual to demisexual, and same goes for others on the asexual scale. Asexuals are not amoebas or plants, they are humans, and they can be romantically and sexually attracted to people. It just might be extremely rare. Even if they don't experience those attractions, it is not helpful to equate them to non-human entities. Humans aren't defined as human only because of an existence of sexual and romantic attraction. Demisexuals are not weirdos or celibate, and they can develop sexual and romantic attraction at different rates or different frequencies. What qualifies as a "strong emotional bond" varies person to person. People can have instances where they act outside of their sexual identity or have "exceptions." Behavior does not define sexuality, and sexual identities do not restrict the person to a certain set of behaviors. It's all about what label the person feels most comfortable using. It should never be about how "well" they perform the textbook definition of their sexuality.

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